(I must preface that I took this trip in middle of March before I had any idea of what was about to happen)
I spent a couple days thinking of the perfect title for this blog. I think this one fits, but you won’t understand it until tomorrow’s installment. If you don’t recognize it, it is from a Christopher Cross Song
So, Coronavirus was running rampant in China. My planned 2 week trip to Laos was cancelled. I had two weeks’ vacation from work, and I needed a break. I found a cheap flight to Guatemala that I was planning on taking in May. I changed the dates to March and prepped to go down for a couple weeks and ride dirt bikes.
After I landed they were not allowing any more Americans. That didn’t sound too bad. I was happy to get out, feeling like there were zombies clawing at the landing gear as we took off..
When I landed in Guatemala they were scanning people for temperature changes
I was thinking of going in the bathroom and stuffing ice in my underwear to make sure I passed, but drastic actions were not necessary as I was as cool as the other side of the pillow.
When I got out of the airport, my plan was to catch an Uber to Antigua, your typical pastel-colored tourist town in Latin America. I always have these grand plans when I come out of the airport to not get a taxi from the guy that hounds you when you come out of security, but I always end up doing it. I have a hard time saying no I guess. Anyway he was charging $35 for 1 hour ride, so I was not complaining. I would not be able to use Uber until I switched out the SIM card on my phone anyway. When I got out of airport there really wasn’t anything around: ATMs, SIM cards, Taxi stands. So, I told him I needed both the ATM and SIM card. He took me to cash and pulled out a SIM card from his wallet. This is the first time I went this route with the phone. Usually, I just pay Verizon an additional $10/day to use my voice/data when traveling internationally, but if you put a local SIM card in it is a lot cheaper. Basically you replace your Verizon SIM with a local company, in this case Claro, and then whomever gives it to you has to activate it. You have various packages to choose from. I paid $15 for 15 days of just data. I did not need text or phone as I could accomplish both through Whatsapp or Line. I just wanted ability to use maps and internet.
I checked into hostel/hotel in Antigua called The Ojala. It was a nice spot.
Now I was off to explore. I wanted to ride some motorbikes so I walked by a place I found online called MotoTours. It was only a few blocks from hotel so I grabbed a beer along the way
City streets were beautiful
I walked into the shop and talked with the owner about joining a tour
They did not have anything today, but there was a guy with his wife riding through from New Mexico to Panama that were looking at doing a side trip tomorrow. I sat for a few drinks agreeing to be back at 10am and headed to find dinner and sleep
While I was sitting there drinking they told me that a case of Corona virus had just came in from airport earlier that day. I asked them where flight originated. They said they were not sure as they looked up on their phone. I was trying to delay my answer until they told me what they knew. They said they thought it was Canada, so I immediately told them I came in from Florida. That was the last thing I needed was to get shunned from these people. I probably should have been more concerned about hoping it was not on my flight, but that was not how my mind was working.
I stopped for a bite at Antigua Brewing Company.
And then cause I was feeling effects of alcohol+, I guess I stopped for another bite to eat
I was asleep by 7pm. Up at 630 for breakfast on the Veranda
There is an overnight hike that you can do and sleep up on a neighboring volcano and watch the lava flow red during the night. I had plans to do this in a couple days. There were a couple groups that offered tours. I went by their shops to get prices and details and figured would try and join last minute. I was trying to do this trip a little less organized than I usually do.
I went back to the bike shop and met Sam, the other rider, and MarLo, the guide. They gave me all the latest, top of the line, protective gear.
I told them I should ride in the middle since I was least experienced. I figured this other guy was expert-level if he had ridden all the BDRs in the US and had ridden his bike from New Mexico to here. Before we headed out we stopped at a gas station. After filling up, Sam was doing some circles waiting for us, and crash, he dropped the bike. I told him maybe he should ride in the middle.
We rode along, back and forth along a river all day. We went through some pretty deep water and I almost lost it once. We also traversed some suspension bridges. These became tricky, like sand, when you start to wobble, the wobbles become exaggerated. On one bridge I barely cleared the end before I felt like I would drop it.
We stopped at a brewery on the way back into town for a beer and some Ceviche.
We came back and dropped the bikes off. I went back to shower and said I would meet up with the guys later at a bar called Café No Se. It is this cool hole-in-the-wall that sells its own Mezcal (Illegal Mezcal).
After the Café we all went to some after hours club only open to locals (Bars in Antigua close around 11pm)
The next morning I sat around the Parque Central trying to figure out my next move
I walked around the city to get a few more choice shots
I did not feel like hiking today, but I could not just sit and do nothing all day. The Corona Virus just arrived back in the US, but still only 2 cases here in Guatemala. I decided I would rent the bike from MotoTours and ride a few hours out to Lake Atitlan for a few days.
They gave me some bike papers and a lock and I was off. The bike started coughing when I opened the throttle too much, not far outside of Antigua. I should have took this as a warning sign, but since I had just abused the same bike yesterday, without issue, I figured it would be fine.
Not 30 minutes outside of town I was stopped by police at some sort of checkpoint. They went through all the papers and my DL, but let me continue on. I took what I believed to be a main highway, but a main highway in Guatemala goes through many variations. So I was in the mountains on a 2 lane road with crazy switchbacks. At the bottom of one of the valleys the “highway” was completely washed out. And I had to ride through a 2ft deep river. I was like, “WTF is going on here” I was starting to panic cause the bike kept stalling and I was in the middle of nowhere. It did not help that I drank too much Mezcal the night before and was already a little jittery from the downswing.
I eventually made it to Panajachel at the lake. The original plan was to leave the bike here and to take a boat to various towns around the lake for a few days. Because I was frazzled I decided best to just crash for night, see if I could get bike fixed next day and had back to Antigua.
I found some Americans drunk at a bar at 2pm and asked them where I could find a place to sleep that was gated in for my bike. I forget to mention that my bike had no key. You just started it. They gave me a typical masterlock to just put through an airflow hole in the brake disc.
One guy jumped on a bike and showed me a place for $20/night with fence. I paid the owner and laid in bed. Then I got a knock on the door. The owners wanted me to go to hospital to confirm I did not have virus before staying. They did not speak English. I was like, “come on, I just want to sleep”, but the more I thought about I did not want to sleep in this place anyway. I found the best resort in town and after having them scan my temperature at front desk I was able to get a room.
It was empty. Things were starting to get weird around here. I walked around docks during night and found an Italian place for dinner. Tomorrow the real adventure starts.